OK, LeBron, now go beat the Warriors
We may never know how big a role, if any, LeBron James played in separating David Blatt from the Cleveland Cavaliers head-coaching position. But we know these things:
1) LeBron and Blatt had their differences;
2) LeBron is a fan of new head coach Tyronn Lue;
3) The Cavs would be nuts not to be certain LeBron is cool with a move of this magnitude.
So infer whatever you want from Friday’s events, but it seems logical to say that the guy now coaching the Cavaliers is a guy LeBron wants coaching the Cavaliers. Here, via the AP, is a quote from general manager David Griffin on Lue:
"He has the pulse of our team," he said.
"Pulse of our team," of course, translates to "LeBron’s ear" in this usage.
OK, it’s more than just that, but having the pulse of the team is one half of the mountain to climb in this job description. The other half is winning the NBA Finals. Besides friction with James and the rest of the players, that was Blatt’s only on-court failing. He went a robust 83-40, but he didn’t win the Finals. He is officially the best head coach in NBA history ever to be fired.
Winning the NBA Finals this coming June will mean, probably, beating the Golden State Warriors. And therein lies the rub. The Warriors are just a lot better right now, and a coaching change may not solve it.
James is bored of the Eastern Conference. His teams have won it five times in a row and six times overall. The conference is so lackluster as a whole that LeBron winning it again is pretty much assumed. If the Cavs come home from school in June and say, "We won the East!" their mom will just grumble, "That’s great, honey" without ever taking her eyes off the TV.
So all eyes will be on the Finals. If the Cavs do in fact make it again, they will likely face the Warriors for a second straight season (though the Spurs, at least, will have something to say about that). Last year, the Cavs won two of the first three taut, tense games only to see Golden State flip a switch and win three straight relatively comfortably. On Monday, the Warriors embarrassed the Cavaliers in Cleveland, 132-98. The Cavs, despite being 30-11 and on top of the East, are going in the wrong direction. Here’s Griffin again:
"Sometimes you can win games in the regular season and get worse," Griffin said at a hastily arranged news conference at the team’s practice facility. "We were regressing over a period of time. There’s a lack of connectedness and spirit that I just couldn’t accept."
This is why Blatt had to go, but with him went the excuse of a strained coach-player relationship being the root of the issues. It was an excuse that also factored into LeBron only winning two of the "not five, not six, not seven" titles he once promised in Miami.
LeBron didn’t pick Erik Spoelstra to coach his Heat teams. He didn’t pick Blatt in Cleveland. The result in each case was tension that, at best, was a distraction and, at worst, actively hurt the teams’ progress.
Enter Lue, finger on the pulse, who has until June to figure out how to close the wide chasm between the Cavs and the Warriors and between the Cavs and themselves. Even if he falls short, too, he’ll surely get a longer leash than Blatt did. Assuming LeBron still likes him.
The Cavs are all-in with LeBron James. He is the hometown hero, the four-time MVP, the King. If there are any issues relating to a coach, the blame for that is going to fall on the coach, unless LeBron is caught on tape spitting in his face or kicking his puppy. It’s LeBron’s world.
So it’s not all on Lue in this iteration. It’s your turn, LeBron. Galvanize the team and go beat the Warriors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.